Essentials in Literature is the newest addition from the company that publishes Essentials in Writing. It's brand new, and it shows. Only grade 8 is currently available, and this first edition has an unfortunate number of typos (Update June 2021: grades 7-11 are now available). Those who like the step-by-step, short, modeled approach of Essentials in Writing will like this curriculum, as well as those looking for an interactive, student led, minimal prep literature textbook focused on literary elements, vocabulary, and context. But if you're looking for a curriculum in which your child will read through the great classics, this isn't it. Most of the literature read is short stories and essays.
How Does This Work?
There are three components to this curriculum. A DVD, a combined textbook/workbook, and a teacher handbook with syllabus and answer key.
The curriculum covers four units, each a different type of literature: fiction, nonfiction, novel, and poetry. Students read 5-6 works of (short) literature per unit, and spend from two to six days on each piece of literature (except the novel unit which covers Elie Wiesel's Night.)
Students start the lesson by reviewing the text in the workbook. They view a 5-10 minute DVD lecture on days that include a video icon, and do research or read on days that have a book icon, then do the work. Assignments include vocabulary, researching relevant topics, and analyzing elements of literature such as plot, conflict, and style. Some sections include an "independent practice" session in which students do a worksheet of vocabulary and literary elements, and write an essay. The end of each unit has a summative assessment.
Our Honest Opinion:
We like this curriculum, with some caveats. The video quality of these lectures is somewhat better than the previously produced Essentials in Writing but it still suffers from poor audio quality. As mentioned above, the errors in the workbook are somewhat distracting. In the poetry unit, students are required to analyze some truly awful poetry by curriculum author Matthew Stevens (who uses it as an example alongside Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson.)
That being said, Matthew Stevens is an enthusiastic teacher (with a slight southern twang.) The "bite-size" model of his curriculum keeps it from being a burden to both student and teacher. It encourages research into context and background of the author and the story. It doesn't delve too far into theme, worldview, or critical thinking as such, but will give students the tools to analyze the elements of literature. In other words, this curriculum will deliver, as promised, the essential or bare bones elements needed to read with understanding.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
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